Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool and Manchester

What are these regional cities like compared to London? We journeyed by train to each of these to get a feel of their vibe.

Bristol city has a youthful student buzz about it due to it being the home of two major universities. Colourful terraced houses catch the eye and Banksy, the satirical street artist is based in Bristol.

The cheerfully brightly painted houses of Bristol.

Cardiff, the capital of Wales, with it’s bilingual signs in Cymraeg everywhere. Unpronounceable words which does not follow the general phonetic rules. Cardiff City has a quaint old fashioned feel about it. It feels like stepping back in time. The population is generally older and the cost of living is noticeably lower. We tried the traditional Welsh Cake at Cardiff Market. A sweet, baked treat like a dense pancake studded with dried fruit.

Cardiff Castles is the big attraction in the centre of Cardiff. One of the owners of Cardiff Castle, the 3r Marquess of Bute was interested in travelling and collecting things. As a result, there were unexpected items within the castle such as Chinese pottery as well as opulent rooms inspired by his travels e.g. the Arab room.

Cardiff Castle – a must see attraction when visiting Cardiff
Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle – the interiors were really lovely.

My favourite place of the 4 cities visited was Liverpool. The waterfront area has been gentrified with striking modern buildings. Well kept historic buildings dot the city reminding all that once, Liverpool was a wealthy hub. Liverpool was a major port city and was also important during the Industrial Revolution. The Chinatown in Liverpool is one of the oldest and largest in Europe due to Chinese sailors settling in the city in the 1800s. Sadly, after World War 2, a number of the Chinese community was forcibly repatriated without notice tearing apart families leaving lasting impacts The museum of Liverpool has informative displays about the history of the city. It is with the understanding of the very hard times that this city has experienced that makes the arresting modern buildings on the waterfront more impressive. It is as if, Liverpool of today is choosing to rise up from their difficult past to forge a better tomorrow. Sadly, the people of Liverpool do not seem as affluent as their fancy buildings.

Liverpool Cathedral

Manchester city has a massive modern shopping mall in the center. This gives it a modern feel. It seems like this city would have a dynamic nightlife scene. The central area is a bit spread out so it has a convenient free bus that facilitates getting around. The major universities based here give the city a youthful buzz.

The John Rylands Research Institute and Library is a notable institution in Manchester. It was established by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands, the widow of a wealthy textile manufacturer. She wanted to create a library that was open to all and despite it’s intricate gothic interiors and exteriors, it is still open for the public to use.

John Rylands Research Institute and Library

For those interested, here are the ways that can be used to keep the cost down for a trip like this.

  • Adjust the dates of your trip to take advantage of cheap rooms from Travelodge. The price of a double hotel room with Travelodge in late September 2023 was Bristol (£39), Cardiff (£34) and Manchester (£40). Travelodge uses dynamic pricing so the same room could be 6 times more expensive on a Saturday night.
  • Always shop around for the best accommodation. In Liverpool, we stayed at a spacious, central, self contained apartment for £56 per night for two people.
  • Don’t forget to bank extra saving using a cashback site like TopCashBack.
  • Self cater where possible and eat simple meals from the supermarket.
  • Check for cheap food on TooGoodToGo and discounted restaurant meals on TheFork.
  • The variation in train ticket prices does not make it easy to optimize for the cheapest price. There is no easy one-stop train ticket website that collates the prices offered by all the various. Unfortunately, for this, many websites had to be checked and compared which is annoying and time consuming. Some of the cheapest tickets were split tickets from a website like SplitMyFare. Ticket prices were as follows; London to Bristol (£46.2), Bristol to Cardiff (£7.9), Cardiff to Liverpool (£43.2), Liverpool to Manchester (£4.3) and Manchester to London ($34.7)

There are many interesting places to visit in the United Kingdom. These regional centers have something which is lacking from London. They have reasonably priced high street stores. It does seem that many of these affordable brands don’t have a branch in London. Perhaps the London population is more discerning?

The observation that will stay with me from this trip is that the country and it’s people are suffering from the cost of living crisis. In general, I found that the people on the street did not look particularly well off. People are getting by but there are no signs of conspicuous consumption. Hopefully this will turn around soon.

Open House Festival London 2023

Ever feel curious about various historic buildings around London? Want to take a peek inside? The annual Open House Festival is your chance. Once a year, visitors can take a look through a large number of buildings not usually open to the public. The types of buildings available include architecturally significant modern buildings, livery buildings, iconic landmarks, private businesses and public buildings. Entry to extremely popular buildings such as 10 Downing Street and the BT Tower are by ballot.

This festival tends to focus the open houses on the weekends. It’s worth to clear your schedule so you can drop in at a number of these places. There are also guided tours and talks by the architect but these get booked out quickly. This festival is facilitated by the many volunteers who act as ushers and manage the curious public. It would not be possible without their contributions.

Encircled and dwarfed by tall, modern, new-build apartments is the unassuming red-brick exterior of the Fitzrovia Chapel. The interior is a hidden gem in London. It’s stunning and full of beautifully restored marble and mosaics. This chapel used to be part of the Middlesex Hospital but now the hospital has been demolished and replaced by modern buildings but this gorgeous chapel remains.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Many times we have walked past the imposing Art Deco exterior of the Freemasons Hall and wondered at what goes on within. We had to take a peek inside at the Art Deco architecture, elaborate ceiling mosaics and the ornate rooms. There were plenty of Freemasons loitering around in their beaded aprons ready to answer any questions.

Freemasons Hall

Livery buildings are the headquarters of various trade associations and guilds. Some of these trades are historic and some trades are no longer relevant. Nevertheless, many are housed in historic buildings and contain interesting artifacts. Many of these guilds use their wealth in charitable giving, for example to support students studying in a relevant trade. Examples of livery buildings we visited included that of the founders (metal casters and melters), coopers (barrel and cask makers) and The Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

In a similar vein to the liveries, are the four inns of court which is a professional association for barristers. As part of the Open House Festival, we visited 2 of these, Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn. These associations provide libraries, canteen facilities, education and training for barristers as well as space for barristers’ chambers. These inns of court are housed in incredibly historic buildings in the prime heart of London. It was quite shocking to walk around the massive, well-kept gardens of the Middle Temple knowing that this massive expanse of greenery exists in the very (expensive) heart of London and for most of the year, only barristers can enjoy it!

Lincoln’s Inn Chapel Undercroft
Lincoln’s Inn Fields library
The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple
Middle Temple Gardens – except for the sound of traffic, this does not feel like central London!

Not far from the Middle Temple is Two Temple Place. This building is from the 1890s but is built in the Gothic style for the wealthy American businessman, William Waldorf Astor. Astor used this building as his residence and office.

Two Temple Place

Unfortunately, photos were prohibited in the exquisite theatre of the Royal Opera House (ROH). The guided tour as part of the Open House Festival was fascinating. There is a royal box where royals would sit, less to enjoy the opera and more to be seen by the public. Behind the royal box is a room where royalty can take meals, rest or leave discretely. The stairs leading from the royal box has a very low handrail as this was designed for Queen Victoria who was of petite stature. The seats in the theatre are covered with thick red velvet as this absorbs sound in a similar way to a human body. This enables the production crew to check the sound levels in the theatre even whilst empty.

Royal Opera House

The buildings we could access this year was driven by availability. Bookings for viewings and slots for guided tours were snapped up so quickly that we missed out. The learning for next year is to secure our spots as soon as they are made available. We were too slow this year and missed out on many interesting buildings. Next year, we will try to have a peek at more modern architectural public and private buildings.

Is there a building near you that you have always been curious to look inside?

What cannot be captured in a photo….

Living in London has been fun and whilst there have been many interesting sights to see (and therefore photograph for this blog), there have been many experiences that do not lend themselves to a photo. Here are a few…..and as I write these, I realise that many of these do not require necessarily the location of London to experience but only the openness to enjoy the many small joys in life.

Turn the snowdrop over! There are all kinds of variations on the inside of the flower. A hidden secret! Exquisite!

Good weather

The biggest complaint about the UK is always the weather. I suspect that it’s only because it is a safe topic of conversation. Whilst it is sometimes cold, grey and drizzly, this is offset but a good number of blue sky days. There is nothing better than making it through a cold, grey winter only to be greeted with the warmth of a sunny spring day. Londoners love these good days as all green spaces become filled with people and their impromptu picnics. Londoners just love to lie in the sun and their appreciation and gratefulness for good weather is almost palpable.

It is the contrast that makes the coming of spring and then summer so sweet. The feel of the sun on your bare arms after months of wearing coats. The feel of a cool breeze on a sweltering hot day. It was a similar phenomena in Darwin when the first drier, cooler breezes of the oncoming dry season caress your skin after a hot, humid and unbearably sticky wet season.

St Paul’s Cathedral from Reflection Garden


Following on from the weather is the joy and interest in the changing seasons. Seeing the spurts of new green growth on trees, the flowering bulbs adding pops of colour in the most unlikely places and now, in summer, the wild, glorious, tangle of vegetation in the flower beds as plants hurry to seed before the next winter. A surprise has been how each of the flowering bulbs take their turn to shine and the landscape can change from week to week. The magic of evolution at play.

Tulips at Holland Park


The feeling of community is something which sustains us but is impossible to translate into a photo. Whether it is hanging out with friends or sharing a meal, or perhaps finding a common mindset amongst new acquaintances, it is always fulfilling. One way in London to find like-minded people is to use MeetUp. There are lots of events organized each week to suit whatever your interest. There are so many people in London, you will surely find others with similar interests. Go forth and find your tribe!

Kindness and community also seem to go hand in hand. On Olio, one is surrounded by a community of people who are frugal, who dislike waste and who can see utility even in the most mundane items that others might throw away without a second thought. When an Olio pick-up is arranged, you inevitably find yourself in contact with lovely people who are willing to make a little extra effort to avoid putting useful items in the thrash.

The Joy of Public Infrastructure

This may seem silly but good public infrastructure is a key factor that drives how livable and therefore lovable a city is. London does not have the absolute best public infrastructure but it is pretty darn good. The public transport whilst not excellent is frequent and clean. There are some segregated, dedicated cycle pathways, the pavement is in reasonably condition and there are public rubbish receptacles. There are lots of lovely areas of calming greenery dotted around and some very large parks as well. These places provide a rejuvenating sanctuary amongst the hustle of city life. There are arty sculptures and statues around, park benches, water features and free events. Crime occurs but it does usually mostly feel very safe. London could be improved with provision of more public toilets.

Nevertheless, there are plenty enough usable, clean public infrastructure to make London a great city to live in and to enjoy life.

Discounting all the essential bits of public infrastructure like public toilets and park benches, my favorite type of public infrastructure are those water features that shoot up from the ground. There is nothing better than hearing children squeal with hilarity at the jets of water that squirt up unexpectedly from the ground. There is nothing better for kids or adults on a sweltering day!


The Buzz and the Energy!

How do you capture the buzz and bustle of a city in a photo? Even if an aspect of it could be conveyed, the presence of it simply cannot be felt. It’s dynamism, the energy of the people in the streets, the vibe of the place. Similarly, it is not possible to truly grasp the magic of the theatre, to feel the energy and sheer awesome talent of the performers without being physically present.

London Marathon – These runners are simply amazing! What a feat!


Many of these aspects might be available where you live. These are things to be mindful of, appreciated and grateful for. As for the London specific buzz, perhaps you need to visit to feel it for yourself!

The view of Big Ben at sunset from within the Houses of Parliament

Money Saving Hacks in London

Tower Bridge

London is a very expensive city to live or to visit but there are countless ways to save money. Some of these do require some time and administration on your part but it’s worth it for the thrill of knowing you got a great deal or the feeling that haven’t been duped into paying for too much. Even if the savings don’t feel like much, every little bit helps.


Housing will undoubtedly takes the biggest bite out of your budget. There are no foolproof ways to get a better deal especially with the hypercompetitive rental market and high inflation but here are some things to consider.

  • Try OpenRent. – Dealing with real estate agents can be horrible especially if you have special circumstances that mean you don’t fit neatly into their usual processes. OpenRent is a platform that private landlords can use to advertise their property. Dealing directly with the landlord could be less hassle for both parties.
  • Consider your commute – the cost of public transport is high in London and if you have to commute to work often, consider whether the savings gained from moving further away for cheaper rent is worth it. Do the math!
  • Consider a flat share situation – this will be cheaper if you don’t mind housemates.

Communication – Mobile Phone and Home Internet

  • Shop around – there are always special deals e.g. mobile phone plans for 99p or £1.99p per month. This might be a 6 month introductory special so before it runs out, change your provider. It’s annoying but not too difficult to swap to a different provider and the savings do add up over time.
  • Check for referrals – can a friend refer you to their provider or vice versa? Often there is a rewarding perk for both of you.
  • Check out these websites. Often a lot of the comparison work has been done for you by Money Saving Expert or Andy Clever Cash. (These two websites come in useful for so many aspects of saving money in the UK.)


  • Maximise the interest you are getting on your savings account. Use
    Money Saving Export or Andy Clever Cash. They have done the account comparison work for you.
  • Learn about investing so your money works for you.
  • Make friends who care about money perhaps by joining a MeetUp group e.g. London Financial Independence
  • Credit card hacks and collecting loyalty points. This can be very lucrative if you are into it. Try Head For Points to get started.


  • Shop around, get a referral from a friend if there is an incentive to swap energy providers.
  • Submit meter readings instead of relying on the estimate from the power company so you pay a more representative (and usually lower) number reflecting your actual usage.
  • Adjust your hot water thermostat temperature down so you are not spending money excessively heating your hot water only to have to mix a heap of cold water to avoid being scalded in the shower. This saves money and is safer as you remove the risk of getting a hot water burn.
  • If it suits, save on heating or cooling by working outside your home. There are some nice, quiet public areas suitable for working e.g. Tower Hamlets Town Hall


  • Consider free stuff or second hand – look on Olio, Freecycle or Facebook Marketplace for free or cheap second hand stuff. This is good not just for your wallet but for the planet as well.
  • Check out ethnic shops or Ikea for more reasonably priced goods.
  • Always compare the in-store price with the online price. Often, if you don’t need things immediately, it’s cheaper purchased online.
  • When purchasing things online, use a cashback website like TopCashBack or Quidco to claw back a % of the price.
  • Join the loyalty club for all the grocery shops you frequent e.g. Tesco clubcard, . There are often additional perks and discounts for their members.
  • This CatchAGem guy has his finger on the pulse of lots of cheap stuff, freebies and giveaways!

Food – Eating In

Eating in and cooking at home is always massively cheaper than eating out.

  • Shop at Aldi or Lidl as they are consistently the cheapest grocery store. Buy all your weekly staples here. Save going to Waitrose or M&S for the odd specific gourmet luxury item. Buying pantry staples at Waitrose can sometimes be 4 times more expensive than Aldi!
  • Use the Olio app to pick up free food. You save on your food budget and perfectly good food is rescued from being wasted. The best time to be on Olio is about 9:30pm at night when the Food Waste Hero (volunteers) advertise the stuff they have picked up from shops closing that evenings. There are plenty of good food from Tescos, Iceland, Pret, Amazon Fresh amongst others. (Plus the Olio community is full of the loveliest people who hate seeing useful things go to waste!)
  • Take advantage of the constant discounts on various recipe boxes e.g. Hello Fresh, Gousto and others. They are always giving massive introductory discounts. This combined with large cashback incentives from TopCashBack or Quidco can result in getting a lot of food for nearly no money or even being paid to eat!

Food – Eating Out

Eating out is a fun thing to do in London but it can be eye-wateringly expensive. Here are some ways to reduce the cost.

  • Consider the meal deals at various grocery stores e.g. Tesco, Sainsbury etc. offer a Main + Snack + Drink for < £5. It’s a nice way to get a sandwich and drink for lunch. Head out to one of London’s many parks and enjoy your little picnic!
  • An alternative for a picnic is to use the TooGoodToGo app where businesses sell their products at a fraction of the price to avoid wasting it.
  • Subscriptions at café chains like Pret or Costa could be good value if you drink a lot of coffee. Do the math!
  • Street food stalls at one of London’s many markets are great for a meal. True, it’s not as comfortable as a sit down restaurant but it’s almost always cheaper and there is no service charge.
  • The alcoholic drinks are cheapest at the Wetherspoons franchise of pubs. The food is hit and miss but it is good value.
  • Look out for cheap deals from various sources e.g. Pre-theatre menus, Plate Deals, Soft Launch, Hot Dinners, Groupon etc.
  • The best app for deep discounts at restaurants and big money off when using loyalty points is TheFork app. Use this promo code on your first booking for extra loyalty Yums! (7E8EADO3) This app works internationally as well so you can eat more cheaply at restaurants around the world! Always check it when you are on holiday!
  • Sign up as a mystery diner and be re-imbursed for eating out. This sounds like a great concept but for most people, it’s not as fun as it first sounds.
  • Finally, brave the awkward conversation and ask for the service charge to be removed when eating out at a restaurant. There is a minimum wage by law which all staff in the UK should be paid. The tipping culture has been borrowed from America and being normalized in London. It’s discretionary so unless the service was truly exemplary, ask for it to be taken off.


  • London is a very walkable city so when time permits, walk to your destination.
  • Cycling is also a cheap way of getting around. Buy a bike second hand or do the math, perhaps a subscription to one of those bicycle hire programs is worth it e.g. Santander Bikes.
  • Never buy a single tube ticket. They are incredibly expensive. Use contactless or an Oyster card.
  • The tube is very expensive. Where possible, avoid peak hour and get the bus. This may not always be possible as the buses can be quite unreliable! It goes without saying therefore, avoid black cabs, Uber etc. except in the most dire of situations!
  • Use the Citymapper app. It tells you the most efficient way to get around and the cost associated with it.
  • Get a railcard if you qualify for it. It pays for itself very quickly.
  • Book train tickets in advance to reduce the price. (Don’t forget to apply your railcard!)

Things to Do

There are so many things to do for free and low cost in London and even the most costly things like the theatre can be done in a much cheaper way.

  • There are loads of free top class museums that you can visit for free.
  • There are always lots of free lectures, events and meet-ups you can join. Use these websites of apps to find them – Free Lectures, EventBrite, MeetUp.
  • Check your local council for discounts e.g. The Borough of Tower Hamlets gives £1 entry for residents to Tower Bridge and Tower of London.
  • Sign up to your local library to access plenty of free material e.g. books, e-books, e-magazines, newspapers, video content etc.
  • Use bus route number 8 or 11 to go past the touristy sites of London instead of the expensive open top tourist buses!
  • Keep your ear out for free festivals and events around London e.g. Open House Festival, Summer by the River, Summer Sounds at Kings Cross etc. Check out these websites to assist – Secret London, Londonist, TimeOut London.
  • Go on a tips only walking tour. There are heaps of different topics to choose from and you just have to tip the tour guide at the end what you think it was worth.
  • Check out free views of the city at SkyGarden, One New Change Rooftop, Primrose Hill in Camden and The Garden at 120.
  • Enjoy the free parks and gardens around London, including the unexpected one in a rooftop at Canary Wharf, Crossrail Place Roof Gardens.
  • Pop in and experience the architecture and serenity at one of London’s many churches and cathedrals. Many are free to enter or free during a service. Listen to the choral music and admire the interiors for free at St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey during a service.

Go to the theatre or concerts more cheaply using one of these methods.

  • Buy your tickets through TodayTix. If you can, buy tickets during the various West End sales which happen throughout the year
  • Buy day tickets or rush tickets or enter the ticket lottery. This can be done via
    TodayTix or search on google for the information. For example, the Royal Opera House releases their rush tickets on a Friday. These days tickets are significantly cheaper than buying a full price tickets and you can be seated in the front row!
  • Become a seat filler for cheap theatre tickets, comedy, live music and all kinds of events!
  • Buy day promming tickets for the BBC Proms. The very best classical concerts in the world at only £8.
  • At a pinch, you could try the TKTS booth at Leicester Square for theatre tickets. This will be cheaper than buying full price but still quite expensive when compared to the other methods on this list.


Are you a senior or, a student or work for the NHS or is it your birthday? Do some research, there are often lots of discounts available if you fit these categories.

In conclusion, I do sense some recurring themes when writing this post. Shop around, do some research, do the math, take the time!

Hopefully this helps alleviate some of the cost of living issues in London so you can spend more time enjoying all the fun things that London has to offer.

Chelsea and Belgravia Floral Displays

It’s spring and if you are an avid gardener, you could go to the Royal Horticultural Society Worlds Most Famous Chelsea Flower Show for between £58 to £116, depending on the session. Or you can take the freebie option and check out the amazing exhibits at Chelsea in Bloom and Belgravia in Bloom held the very same week. These displays have been an unexpected gem. Wandering about these posh suburbs and seeing these amazing, artful displays was such a treat!

The themes this year are “Flowers on Film” for Chelsea and “Into the Wild” for Belgravia. The artists do an incredible job working with flowers and natural items like bark and twigs to create amazing sculptures. It is wonderful to be able to walk around these suburbs enjoying the spring weather and viewing these artworks!

Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland (Chelsea in Bloom)
Mary Poppins (Chelsea in Bloom)
Black Beauty (Chelsea in Bloom) – outside Lloyds Bank. Who knows what a bank has to gain by spending money on this display?
The Lion King (Chelsea in Bloom)
Freddie Mercury and Queen (Chelsea in Bloom) – set up outside skin care shop! They were pumping out the music of Queen nice and loud so passerby’s instantly understand the flower display!
Jurassic Park (Chelsea in Bloom) – set up on Sloane Square.
Chelsea in Bloom (Whilst it wasn’t obvious how this display related to a film, it was a favorite. This wild cacophony of spectacular pink and white flowers!)
Seahorses (Belgravia in Bloom) – this one was special. Land based flowers to create a seascape.
Bee (Belgravia in Bloom)
Foxes (Belgravia in Bloom)
Peacocks (Belgravia in Bloom)
Butterfly (Belgravia in Bloom)
Tunnel of Orchids (Belgravia in Bloom) – this photo does not do this any justice at all. This is a tunnel absolutely filled with the most exquisite, perfect orchids. The condition of the orchids were flawless and there were so many. I shudder to imagine the cost to set this up! This was sponsored by a floral school tucked away in a small square at the end of an alleyway. They would therefore would get no foot traffic. This tunnel of orchids they set up must give them the most publicity they get all year!
Tunnel of Orchids
Orchids – isn’t evolution marvelous?!

Another Dispatch from London

London is a major city and there are always fabulous events happening, something to feast the eye around every corner and the opportunity to see and do things which are quite special. These are but a few recent examples.

Grand Designs is a TV show where the host, Kevin McCloud follows home owners building their dream home from blueprint to completion. There are often elements of interesting architecture or design and lots of drama in the form of cost and schedule overruns. Recently, there was an event held called Grand Designs Live. We had the opportunity to peruse stalls related to all aspects of home-building and design but best of all, we could see Kevin McCloud himself! He looks and sounds just like he does on TV!

Kevin McCloud – host of Grand Designs

London is still reveling in the joyous beauty of spring. The weather is warming up and moods are lightening along with clothing. As spring progresses, different flowers take the stage and have their moment to shine.

A sea of beautiful blue flowers not far from the front of Kensington Palace
A peacock strutting it’s stuff at the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. This cocky fellow was used to parading itself for all the tourists!
Tulips at Holland Park

There was plenty happening in London on Coronation weekend. The city was heaving with extra tourists who had made the special trip to see the Coronation of King Charles. In the picturesque St Katherine’s Docks, they had a special exhibition of the Little Ships of Dunkirk to celebrate the Coronation. These small boats were spotlessly cleaned and decorated.

St Katherine’s Docks
To celebrate the coronation, there was a display of small boats at St Katherine’s Docks. They were all spick and span and decked up with celebratory bunting. The most amazing thing is that this was an exhibition of some of the ‘little ships’ that were involved in Operation Dynamo, in World War 2. These small private boats were used to help the navy to rescue soldiers trapped on the beaches in Dunkirk, France. The condition of these boats were incredible considering their age. They have been so well cared for.

Right next to St Katherine’s Docks is this lovely historic pub, The Dickens Inn looking resplendent with yellow flowers.

The Dickens Inn, Wapping – built in the 1700s.

The magic of London is the unexpected surprises and hidden gems to be found. Look up at the architectural detail, look down the side street and you never know what you might find.

London is full of surprises around every corner. Who would expect to see this statue on a small side street? It’s part of a pair and they are looking at each other from either end of the small street.

Many of the shops decorated themselves for the Coronation weekend. Some famous shops like Fortnum and Mason are always well decorated with their window displays a particular highlight especially at Christmas time. For the Coronation, the front of the shop was adorned with this show-stopping peacock. Upon close inspection, this whole sculpture was made using the colourful and classic Fortnum and Mason cookie tins! So cool!

Peacock sculpture adorning the front of Fortnum and Masons. The peacock was created from the famous cookie tins sold at the shop.
The city was relatively quiet on the Monday Bank Holiday after the coronation of King Charles. I stumbled onto Saville Row which looked unusually deserted and it was such a treat to see that these old British business had a part to play in providing the coronation regalia.

In the posh suburb of Chelsea is the Saatchi Gallery. On a random Sunday that I visited, I lucked upon both free entry and a rare book fair. Entry prices vary depending on the day of the week and the exhibition on display. This rare book fair is one of the most popular and prestigious book fairs in the world. They were displaying rare first edition copies and other ephemera from authors and books worldwide.

Whilst an exhibition of old books seems dry and boring, this was curiously so wonderfully engaging. There were old books from all over the world in exquisite condition. Books that ran the gamut of topics like fiction, medicine, botany, science, cartography, architecture and religious texts. Free tours were given by some of the book sellers. To hear the stories around some of the books added so much colour and context to them. It turns out that if you have a first edition book in good condition, it would be worth multiple times more money if the associated dustcover is still with the book and in good condition. Most of the value is strangely associated with the dustcover. We learnt how to spot a refurbished dust cover. There was a very special book signed by 7 UK prime ministers and about 280 people who worked in the UK parliament at the time.

We also saw the very first book published by the feminist author, Margaret Atwood, of the Handmaid’s Tale and the famous children’s author Julia Donaldson, of the Gruffalo fame. The first book published by Margaret Atwood is a tiny, thin, insubstantial pamphlet. It provided no hint of the massive worldwide success she would become. It was shocking to see the book sellers handling this many decades old piece of paper history with their bare fingers. They said that wearing white gloves reduces the sensitivity of the fingers thus putting the books in greater risk of being damaged. They then proceeded to offer me this book to touch! No way! I’m not putting my grimy fingers on this precious artifact worth £4000! It didn’t stop other people handling it with their dirty bare hands.

I’m not sure what made this book fair so fascinating as I have no interest in buying expensive, rare, first edition books. As an avid reader, it was something about being amongst people who love books, people who understand their value and magic. It was like finding your tribe!

First Edition George Orwell, Animal Farm, £9500.
First Edition Roald Dahl Book
Shakespeare – The headline of this year’s book fair is this 400 year old publication of a folio of Shakespeare’s works.

A few blog posts ago, I had bemoaned the sad fate of so many beautiful church buildings being used by an ever-diminishing elderly congregation. They should be used for other purposes and be used by much more people. There is a wonderful example of re-purposing an old church in London at Mercato Mayfair. This building, St Mark’s was deconsecrated in 1974 and is now used as a posh food court.

There are international food stalls lining the edge of the interior of the church on two floors with the bar at the alter end of the church under the stained glass. You can even pop downstairs to the crypt and partake at the boutique gin bar. It is a lively place full of good food and buzzy chatter amongst friends and family sharing a meal. Surely this is a much better use of this once religious place.

There are parallels in this place from then to now. Instead of partaking in communion bread and wine, you can now eat a spicy laksa and drink a boutique gin and tonic. Instead of confessing to a crusty old priest, you can now confess your sins to your supportive girlfriends. Instead of bowing to the awe of god, you can now look up to the rafters and marvel at the beautiful work of skilled human tradespeople. Instead of the “love” of god, it has been replaced with the love that comes from eating food from all over the world, dishes that have descended and been perfected from generations of loving home cooks, the sharing of diverse heritages and eating with friends and family. This is a different kind of love but I would say a more beautiful kind of love.

Mercato Mayfair – a church now used as a food court.
Mercato Mayfair – the crypt / gin bar.

Eventbrite is an event ticketing website which has been an awesome source of free events in London. There was a Parliamentary Digital Economy Summit being held and we went to a session about Building the Future. It was held by the Parliament Street Think Tank. What a treat it was to be able to enter the Houses of Parliament to attend this free event! The session itself, held in a parliamentary committee room, was with an MP and a number of prominent individuals working in the digital economy. There were also plenty of people in the audience with a vested interest in promoting the digital economy. It was interesting content but really, the highlight was being able to walk through the historic and hallowed halls of the Palace of Westminster!

State Coach of the Speaker of the House of Commons
Houses of Parliament – inside a committee room
The view of Big Ben at sunset from within the Houses of Parliament

Tower of London

Considering the crowds, a visit to the historic Tower of London seems to be a “must do” for anyone visiting London. This building complex which dates back to 1066 has been used as an armoury, the Royal Mint, a dungeon, a menagerie, the home of the Crown Jewels and the site of a number of executions. Amongst the executions are some of the wives of King Henry VIII. Here are my tips for a good visit.

Are you a Tower Hamlets resident?

The entry fee for adults is £33.60. For those lucky enough to live in the borough of Tower Hamlets, you can get into this attraction for a mere £1. Go to the ticket booth with your Ideas Card (i.e. your library card), proof of address and your identification.

Guard Duty

Go at opening time.

This is a major tourist attraction for London and is always inundated with visitors. The queue for tickets is long, the queue to get into the complex is long and the queue to see the Crown Jewels is ridiculously long. Get there at or before opening to reduce the wait times. Pre-purchase your tickets online to avoid the ticket office line.

The White Tower

Bee-line for the Crown Jewels.

If you have heeded my tip to go at opening time, make a bee-line upon entry to the Crown Jewels. You might be able to get in at this point without waiting. Dilly-dally and the queue will build and build and build! By midday, the queue can be 2 hours long! It’s quite crazy that the queue is so long considering that a conveyor belt has been installed inside to move tourists past the Crown Jewels at pace to avoid any loitering.

Don’t miss seeing the Crown Jewels. Photos are not allowed so I cannot show you how ostentatious and priceless these pieces are but it is definitely worth looking at. It’s not everyday you see this many precious gemstones of such prodigious sizes!

The crown jewels are kept in this building.
The queue to see the crown jewels snakes so far out that the building that the crown jewels are stored in can no longer be seen!

Go on a Yeoman Warder Tour

The Yeoman Warders have been guarding the Tower of London since Tudor times. They are also called Beefeaters. These days, to even apply for a job as a Yeoman Warder, you need to have completed at least 22 years of military service and be of good character. There is a Yeoman Warder tour every half hour from 10am. They are very entertaining and informative. It’s always interesting to know where the two princes were buried and where Anne Boleyn was executed!

The other interesting fact about the Yeoman Warders is that they live at the Tower of London with their families. This means that there are children who grow up playing in the grounds of the Tower of London and popping in to see the Crown Jewels after school.

Yeoman Warder Tour

Bring Snacks

There is quite a lot to see once inside the Tower of London complex, especially if you are a history buff. Plus, it does cost a fair bit to get in. It took me 5 hours to see everything. Pack some water and snacks to keep yourself going so you can enjoy the visit.

The ravens of the Tower of London. These were surprisingly lare birds. They get fed mice, rats, chicks and sometimes biscuits soaked in blood. The myth is that the crown will fall if these birds ever leave the Tower so they are well cared for by the Ravenmaster.
The Royal Armouries
The Royal Armouries
The Royal Armouries
A gorgeous view of Tower Bridge from the Tower of London

Lovely London in Springtime!

London is gorgeous in springtime. People start to wear lighter jackets and sometimes you even see some shorts and skirts with bare legs! The flowers that sprout up everywhere are simply joyous. These flowers can be observed just doing everyday things around London. No special trip to some pricey gardens required. Just keep your eyes open and feast them on the cherry blossoms, daffodils, bluebells, hyacinths, tulips and all the other plants bursting into life to celebrate a new year of growth.

Columbia Road Flower Market – so unbelievably beautiful (but you will have to battle the crowds!)
Westminster Abbey – but really, I’m looking at that tree in bloom!
Tulips – near New Change
Cherry Blossoms
Flower Beds by St Paul’s Cathedral
Tulips Near Leicester Square

Lots of big world events happen in London. Preparations are in full swing for the coronation of King Charles! The London Marathon with 42,000 runners only just happened recently!

Preparations are underway for the King’s coronation All manner of companies are jumping on the bandwagon using the coronation as a business and advertising opportunity!
London Marathon – These runners are simply amazing! What a feat!

In true London style, around every corner, there is some beautiful architectural building, picturesque view or interesting detail to catch the eye!

View from Bonner Gate, Victoria Par Market
Natural History Museum – the museum is sensational but when you are there, take a moment to look at the building. This building was designed and purpose-built to display Natural History artefacts and the level of detail throughout this building is an absolute marvel!
Natural History Museum-The massive blue whale skeleton that dangles over the main foyer!
Charles Darwin – da man himself!
The Albert Memorial
Royal Albert Hall
Tate Britain
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Fountain – seems incongruous to have such lovely stone buildings and this beautiful fountain used for a hospital in a prime central London location
A glimpse of St Paul’s Cathedral – look up, turn around, look down the alleyway. London is full of lovely surprises if you care to look.
St Paul’s Cathedral from Reflection Garden. What a beautiful spot!
London City Skyline
Tower Bridge
Outernet – Free immersive artwork. It’s much more impressive in person as the video screens constantly change artworks.
Fancy Cheesemongers – selling cheese since 1797
Because no visit to the UK is complete without some stinky British Stilton cheese!
The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn